Irving Berlin Kahn, namesake nephew of the famed composer, founded TelePrompTer before going to prison for bribery.
|1972: The cable guy and the alleged bribe|
|By PAUL MICKLE / The Trentonian|
|Many American towns were wired for cable television in the 1960s. So by 1972, Trentonians were clamoring for the new technology, which promised to take static and snow out of television pictures that in those days were picked up strictly by antenna.
What was taking cable so long - and why it would be another decade before Trenton was finally wired up - came out at the Mercer County Courthouse in the winter of 1972 during a sensational trial that starred a few characters whose names still ring today.
There was charismatic young Councilman Martin J. Hillman, on trial for allegedly demanding a $50,000 bribe from a cable company magnate four year earlier, telling him: "This is the way business is done in Trenton."
Hillman's alleged accomplice was former Council President Peter W. Radice, a popular banker who said he met secretly in 1967 with the cable bigshot's lieutenants only because one of them was a boyhood friend: "I've dedicated my life to helping my fellow man," he told the jury.
Another suspect was the nervous head of Trenton's housing authority, Joseph Tysowski, who was so loosely tied. to the alleged conspiracy the judge summarily acquitted him in mid trial. Tysowski promptly fainted.
Never seen at the trial but on the mind of many was an indicted cohort best known as a former star city athlete, lawyer Richard Gray, who allegedly was the "bagman" for the bribery scheme.
Bill Mathesius, who would go on to become Mercer County executive, was the 30-year-old prosecutor. One of the defense lawyers was George Pellettieri Jr., whose trial performance and death at an early age helped make him a legend in Mercer legal circles.
And, hardly least, there was Irving Berlin Kahn, the famed composer's namesake nephew, who owned the company that developed automatic cue cards for television actors and anchormen and was predicting that all America would be wired for cable by the end of the 1970s.
The case pitted the word of the popular local figures against the testimony of out-of-town tycoon Kahn, who had been convicted of bribing an official in Johnstown, Pa., to get his company a monopoly on cable television service there.
The trial centered on what took place at Hamilton's Homestead Inn on Sept. 19, 1967, when Hillman and Radice allegedly cut a deal to get $50,000 for the four council votes the visionary millionaire needed to bring cable to Trenton.
Radice and Hillman maintain to this day that they met with representatives of Kahn's giant TelePrompTer Corp. in the restaurant kitchen that day merely to gather information. But Kahn's lieutenants, including a boyhood friend of Radice, testified that a payoff of $50,000 was negotiated after the men broke bread.
Only days later, for whatever the reason, four city councilmen voted to award TelePrompTer the lucrative right to be the only cable television distributor in Trenton.
By the end of the 1960s, however, nothing in Trenton had been wired for cable, even though there were rumblings that the skids had been plenty greased for the project.
Enter Mathesius, a young former assistant U.S. attorney for Trenton who was interested in fighting political corruption and, if the defense lawyers were right, making a name for himself so he could get into politics.
"There had been talk on the street about possible payoffs for some time," Mathesius recalled last week. "So when I came in I started subpoenaing people to come in and talk to see if we could get anywhere."
By March 24, 1971, after a few stories about the scandal showed up in Trenton's newspapers, Mathesius was ready with his indictments. They alleged that Radice and Hillman had negotiated the bribe, that Tysowski showed he was in on it by calling the councilmen at the restaurant that day, and that the payoffs were funneled through popular lawyer Gray.
News reports said Mathesius had grand jury statements from Kahn about Hillman coming to his New York City office on Oct. 30, 1967, to insist that, to get the contract, he'd have to submit the best bid, plus the $50,000 under the table.
"This is it," Kahn said the then-30-year-old Hillman told him. "'This is the way business is done in Trenton. You'll have to pay $50,000 and put in the best bid."
Mathesius also had the testimony of the two Kahn lieutenants who were at the meet at the Homestead, Robert S. Symons, a TelePrompTer vice president, and Thomas Moscarello, a friend of Radice's since childhood who was a Hamilton representative for the company.
Symons told the grand jury that Hillman and Radice never spoke about money to him, but he sensed that's what they wanted from their talk in the Homestead kitchen. After they all stepped outside, Symons said he suggested Moscarello offer them $75,000.
Symons said Moscarello told him $50,000 would suffice and that, after stepping away from him to consult with the officials huddled nearby, he returned and told him Hillman and Radice had agreed.
From there, Moscarello told the grand jury, he and the councilmen went to his Hamilton home, where Hillman explained that Tysowski had called him at the restaurant earlier because he "wants in on the deal." He said Tysowski showed at his home soon after and seemed annoyed with Hillman and Radice until they spoke to him privately and he started smiling.
With help from TelePrompTer, Mathesius also got records showing more than $100,000 in payments for not much work to lawyer Gray, a former Trenton commissioner and state assemblyman whom the prosecutor had indicted in the hope of grilling him on the witness stand about where all the money went.
Weeks before the trial started, however, Gray, 50, fell ill with kidney problems, which prevented his testimony and prompted Judge George Schoch to order him tried separately from the others later. Gray died before coming to trial.
The prosecution's case was hurt, but Mathesius said he pressed on confident that the trial testimony of Kahn, Symons and Moscarello would convince the jury the three Trenton officials were crooked. Mathesius also wasn't concerned that, months earlier, star witness Kahn had been convicted of paying a $15,000 bribe to the mayor of Johnstown, Pa., and then lying about it to investigators.
In late January, 55-year-old Kahn took the stand and said he got mad when Symons told him about the deal that allegedly had been cut at the Homestead. When Hillman came to his New York office on Oct. 30, 1967, five weeks after the meet at the Homestead, Kahn said he tried to convince him that TelePrompTer should be selected because it was the best in the cable business.
Hillman cut him off, Kahn testified, telling him about "how business is done in Trenton." Kahn said he reluctantly agreed to pay the $50,000 bribe. As they headed out, Kahn testified, the councilman told him "a Mr. Gray will be getting in touch with you" about the payment. Weeks later, Dick Gray showed at his office for a meeting to work out the details, Kahn said.
On cross-examination, Pellettieri attacked Kahn as a briber and liar. In addition to getting the magnate to admit that he had been convicted in connection with the Johnstown case, Pellettieri brought out that Kahn stood to lose millions of dollars if TelePrompTer failed due to this and other investigations of corruption in the cable industry.
Pellettieri also brought out that Mathesius, Mercer's first assistant prosecutor, was handling the case because county Prosecutor Bruce Schragger feared his past representation of a company competing for Trenton's cable monopoly would pose a conflict.
The suggestion at the trial, repeated last week by Radice, was that the officials were targeted because competitors like Schragger's former client wanted the TelePrompTer deal tossed out.Then, according to the defense theory, other firms could get another shot at the Trenton market, which was so lucrative 11 companies had put in bids.
n his closing argument, Mathesius scoffed at the notion that TelePrompTer competitors had worked behind the scenes to get Hillman and Radice because of the millions of dollars at stake. To believe this, jurors would have to believe the authorities had joined in a giant conspiracy with the cable competitors, Mathesius said.
Pellettieri responded by saying in his closing that Kahn and TelePrompTer were hoping their allegations about what happened in Trenton would convince the feds handling the Johnstown case that, far from seeking out officials to bribe, the company was being extorted right and left by municipal leaders all over the country.
"Can you take the word of this man Kahn, whose God is money, and ruin the life of Marty Hillman and take him away from his wife and children?" Pellettieri asked. "Ask TelePrompter if they didn't have a motive to lie to you."
As the jury went out to deliberate, it had only the fate of Hillman and Radice to consider. A week before, the judge acquitted Tysowki, based on his lawyer's argument that prosecutors simply didn't have enough linking him to the bribe.
Tysowski, visibly shaken as his lawyer made the motion, collapsed in what appeared to be a heart attack when Schoch announced he was a free man.
On Feb. 4, after seven hours of deliberation, the jury came and announced the verdicts: Not guilty on all counts. The officials emerged from the courthouse and, after accepting the cheers and pats on the back from family and friends, headed to the Homestead for a celebration.
"I feel sorry for the people of Trenton," Mathesius said after the verdict came in. But last week, he said it wasn't a total loss: "We ended the careers of a couple of politicians whose careers should have been ended."
But Radice, Hillman and Tysowski weren't really ruined.
Radice got back his job as a vice president at a Ewing bank and moved to Lawrence, where he was tapped by local officials to head a charter study commission on changing the form of government, as he had done in the early 1960s in Trenton to get his start in politics.
"When you're in politics, you're in a fishbowl and someone is always trying to catch you," Radice, 71, waxed philosophically last week. His ordeal never turned him off to politics, Radice said, but he expressed disappointment that none of his six children are interested in government service now because of what he went through while they were youngsters.
Hillman, now 62, remained on City Council for another three years after his acquittal and worked as an administrator for the housing authority until appointed to the director's post in 1979. Hillman, who could not be reached for comment, held the top housing authority job into the 1990s.
Tysowski, who died several years ago, spent a few days in a hospital recovering from what was diagnosed as extremely high blood pressure after his collapse at the trial. Then he returned to work at the housing authority and his position as a director at a local bank.
Mathesius went on to become Mercer prosecutor and county executive, a job he decided not to seek reelection to in 1991 after it came out that he had put an inmate on the county payroll as a way to save money on prison maintenance and renovation jobs.
Radice, calling his trial "political," last week admitted he was glad years later when Mathesius got in trouble over the payroll flap, which an investigating grand jury criticized but found short of criminal. Said Radice: "All I want to know is, why wasn't Mathesius indicted?"
As for Kahn, after serving 20 months in federal prison on the Johnstown bribery charges, he started another cable television business that he sold to The New York Times Co. for $82.7 million in 1981. He went to his grave in 1994 insisting that American pols always approached him about payoffs. Last year, Kahn was named to the cable industry's hall of fame.